Justin Verlander was the best starting pitcher in the baseball during the 2011- 2012 seasons, winning a Most Valuable Player award, a Cy Young, and was within one vote of winning a second Cy Young. He led the majors in WAR with 12.9, and led the league with a 2.52 ERA, 489 innings pitched, 41 wins, and 489 strikeouts.
By those standards, Verlander had something of an "off season" in 2013, going 13- 12 with a 3.46 ERA. His innings were down, strikeouts were down, while walks and ERA were up. His WHIP rose from 1.06 to 1.31. He was arguably the third best pitcher on the Tigers, yet still among the top ten starting pitchers in the American League.
Looking past the results, Verlander's velocity was down very slightly, but not anything to be concerned about. His average fastball still flies at 94 mph, and he can still reach back and dial it up in the late innings. Opponents hit Verlander's fastball some 40 points better than the previous year, and he gave up 20 more hits despite pitching 20 fewer innings. A 43 point rise in his batting average allowed on balls in play had something to do with that. Overall, his K/BB ratio dropped from 3.98 to 2.89 from 2012 numbers.
Most likely, this was just a bit of bad luck, and an off year, maybe not unrelated to the fact that he and the Tigers didn't wrap up their season until the World Series was over the previous season But whatever the reason, suffice it to say that Verlander is looking for a "bounce back" season and regaining his form atop the Tigers' rotation. He'll have a chance to do that, starting on opening day, when he will start ahead of Cy Young winner Max Scherzer and ERA champion Anibal Sanchez.
Odd Numbers: Verlander's ERA out performed his FIP in the two previous seasons, but the trend was reversed in 2013. Despite the "off year", Verlander ranked 4th in the AL among pitchers in WAR, and ninth in FIP.
Key to Success. While I would call Verlander's 2013 season pretty successful, if he wants to return to his ACE levels of the previous two seaons, he will have to get the batting average down from .251 closer to the .215 average that he allowed in 2012. Whether that's luck, defense, or just being more hittable, those balls falling in for hits, together with walks, need to be reduced.
2014 Outlook: ACE. If there's any drop off in Max Scherzer from his Cy Young performance in 2013, the Tigers hope that Verlander will normalize and pick up the slack. He'll be one of the best pitchers in the game once again in 2014.